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Valuing Access to U.S. Public Lands: A Pricing Experiment to Inform Federal Policy*


  • He will share all data and coding for replication purposes. The project was supported through a cooperative agreement between the University of Wyoming and the U.S. Department of the Interior, but this article does not reflect the official position of either organization. We thank Vic Adamowicz, Sharon Lohr, Kim Magraw, Bruce Peacock, Kerry Smith, and journal referees, as well as conference participants at the Western Economic Association and American Agricultural Economic Association annual meetings, for their valuable input.

Direct correspondence to David Aadland, Department of Economics and Finance, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071 〈〉.



We report on a nation-wide study conducted for federal land-management agencies. Congress mandated a new annual pass for recreational access to U.S. public lands.


To assist policymakers in setting a price for the new pass, we administered a national telephone survey with more than 2,000 respondents. Using “contingent valuation” methods, we model willingness to pay for the pass at different prices. Our research design lets us estimate and adjust for hypothetical bias.


We show that survey respondents (especially those least familiar with the hypothetical good) tend to overstate their true willingness to pay.


We present the results and describe how our conclusions were used by policymakers to set the price of the new pass at $80. We also demonstrate the external validity of our findings by comparing the projected pass sales from our model to subsequent actual sales.